Thursday, November 02, 2017

PDXFF ’17: The VelociPastor

For a while, shape-shifting paranormal romances were a hot-selling publishing category. They’ve cooled off lately, but Brendan Steere and his co-conspirators are determined to bring them back. Instead of werewolves or selkies, Doug Jones has a velociraptor alter-ego. That’s Doug Jones the character, not the actor—and a priest to boot. Do not expect subtlety or shame from Steere’s The VelociPastor (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Portland Film Festival.

VelociPastor is based on a gag grindhouse trailer, so that should give you an idea of what’s in store. After his parents are killed by a car bomb, Father Jones experiences a crisis of faith. To reconnect with God and nature, he tours rural China, which looks a lot like Clark County, Ohio, by the banks of the Mad River. While there, a peasant girl chased by ninjas passes on a mystical dragon tooth to him, which duly instills its juju in him, after it cuts his palm. Whammo, hello VelociPastor.

Initially, Father Jones tries to keep the monster inside him at bay, but when his parents’ killer unknowingly boasts of their murder in the confessional, all bets are off. He also starts falling for Carol, a hooker with a heart of gold, who will be his kung fu kicking partner in vigilantism and eventually breaking his vows. Frankly, as Carol, Alyssa Kempinski has more poise and presence than this movie has a right to expect. To his credit, Gregory James Cohan endures no end of slapstick humiliations like a good sport, but some of the supporting players are awkward even by low budget grindhouse spoof standards.

If VelociPastor had an ounce of seriousness or professionalism, we would call out its shameless hostility towards the Catholic Church (which among other things is eventually revealed to be masterminding a nasty cocaine smuggling ring). However, it just isn’t worth the effort for a film like this. So, it’s offensive. What did you expect?

A little faux grindhouse goes a long way. Even at seventy-one minutes, VelociPastor is really dragging the joke out. Still, it has the twin virtues of being nuttier than Machete and less brutal than Hobo with a Shotgun, if that helps you place it. So here it is. You’re on your own when VelociPastor premieres tonight (11/2) at this year’s Portland Film Festival.